Why I Write – Aimee Baker

Why I Write – Aimee Baker

Aimee Baker 2

Why do I write?

Because it can take less than ten seconds for a woman walking alone along a quiet stretch of sidewalk to be physically forced from her path and shoved into the dark maw of a car trunk.

Because there was once a young woman who was pushed from the backseat of a speeding car into the dust and dirt along the I-10, the hulking body of Phoenix in the distance behind her. The woman had a blue heart tattoo etched into her chest and, if you only look at the right side of her morgue photos, you could believe she is only closing her eyes for a moment.

Because on early mornings waiting for the bus to take me to school my brother would stand close so I could hear him when he whispered that he wanted to kill me. His breath puffed into the cold air and across my face when he said he wanted to rip my intestines from my body. Wanted to hold my heart in his hands.

Because Gary Ridgway killed 49 women. Because Ted Bundy killed 35 women. Because Robert Hansen killed 15 women.

Because in rural Idaho a boy tells a classmate he wants to “kill all the girls.”

Because my Correction Officer student laughs when he tells me that at Clinton Correctional John Jamelske’s name is Bunker Bob. “But I don’t know why,” he adds. I want to say that it’s because over the course of ten years Jamelske kidnapped and raped women, imprisoning them in a concrete bunker buried in his yard. Instead, I remain silent, the words caught in my chest.

Because inside Clinton Correctional with Jamelske is Julio González who killed 87 people at the Happy Land club after his ex-girlfriend said she didn’t want to be with him anymore.

Because once, long ago, a young woman rode her bicycle along the edge of the desert, her legs pumping in time to the music playing through her headphones.

Because a polaroid is found in a Florida parking lot. In it, a woman and young boy are bound in the back of a van with their hands behind them, black tape covering their mouths. By her thigh the book My Sweet Audrina, a favorite of the woman who rode her bike along the edge of the desert the year before. The year she disappeared.

Because a teacher once stopped me in the hallways of my high school. Gripping my forearm tight with her hand she leaned forward and asked me to stop writing about violence. “Have you thought about writing something nice?” she implored.

I write because now you know it takes less than ten seconds to disappear.

 

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Sometimes Out of Turn: Ben Westlie

Thanks to Facebook I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with Ben Westlie.  He’s a cutie and good poet, which is a great combination.  Doesn’t a cute poet writing good poems just melt your butter?  I want people to read his work, so I’m sharing a poem from his chapbook titled Sometimes Out of Turn (Finishing Line Press, 2012).  Oh btw.  Naomi Shihab Nye–maybe you’ve heard of her–had this to say about Sometimes Out of Turn, “Ben Westlie’s poems are so well-shaped, so authentic and caring; they transport a reader fluently and soulfully into a sometimes difficult but deeply tender world. I love them.”

Invitation

My heart is alive, listening,
making no sounds,
speaking of nothing, as if language
never was.

Now your heart must try to confess
before your body lies down forever.
A voice cannot be heard
through dirt or sand.

Your heart needs to speak,
sometimes out of turn,
so we don’t become a lie.

 

You can find Ben online here.

WHY I WRITE – Michelle Bitting

WHY I WRITE ~ Michelle Bitting 

In the Mining Shaft

The ladder down is rickety
and swoons, each rung a bent bow
under heel. The air thickens;
its black dream seethes. Mansion
of many dooms, chained doors
quicken, haunted, rupture breath
as the lamp-heart flickers, a yellow bird
swaying in sync. I don’t know
what I’m looking for, only know
it is more precious
than coal or gold. Some days
I think I won’t clock out,
won’t heed the weakening canaries,
resurrect or compose myself
in that cold, dim light. I’m lost
if I am anything. Deaf
to whistles, the land-lark cry, click
of my empty lunch pail,
its skull licked clean.

WHY I WRITE ~ Nin Andrews

WHY I WRITE ~ Nin Andrews

Why Write?

I used to play this game when I was a kid.   I’d imagine I was an alien.  I had to report back to the mother ship, tell my people, This is how it is done on planet earth.  They make up rules.  They tell you . . .

This is how you dress, love, think, believe, eat, drink, hold a fork.  (Not like a pitchfork, my father would correct me.)

I had to write it all out. I had to explain it all to someone.  My ideal readers have always been my alien friends.

Why Poetry?

As a girl, I liked lined paper, unlined paper, notebook paper, tracing paper, construction paper, drawing paper, spiral notebooks, dividers, school notebooks, pencils, pens, erasers, markers, crayons, calligraphy pens, paintbrushes . . .

              (But I always hated blue books. The size is all wrong, and I don’t like wide-ruled paper.  How can anyone write a proper essay in a blue book?)

I liked the physical act of writing words, phrases, sentences, pressing my fat pencil deeply into the page or skimming my fountain pen delicately across a page in loopy script.

              (Remember that thick paper you were given in grade school?  It looked like banana peels were ground into it.  You could sink your fat pencil into it and make an engraving.)

I liked defining words, redefining words, making up meanings, thinking about what meaning means.

              (Do you ever wonder what meaning means? Meaning whatever that means, but isn’t it always more convincing in printed letters?  Print is so much more black and white and evokes fewer fantasies. Script is better for personal letters and thoughts and suggests other realities.)

I liked thinking of that distance between what can’t be said and what is said, between what is said and what is meant.

              (Sometimes I get so lost in that distance.  So many words really have no meaning if you think too hard about them.  Like reason or faith or god.)

I wondered about how much of life is invented by words. No matter how “real” the word-world seems, it never is the world.

              (I sometimes think I prefer our inventions.  Like our pretensions.  They might be all we have.)

As the painter Rene Magritte said of his painting of a pipe, Ceci n’est pas une pipe: “Of course it is not a pipe, just try to fill it with tobacco.”

              (Dear Magritte, I dreamt you came to dinner last night. But it was only an idea of dinner.  I woke up hungry for ice cream.)

But what if you could fool people, and I mean really fool people?  What if you could bring them into your imaginary world? Let them smoke your pipe, feel and taste the smoke entering their lungs, exhaling it back out and into the air?

              (I’m so easily fooled. Yes, it’s true.  I prefer to be fooled. Don’t you? )

What is it we’ve been smoking? people might ask after the fact, making up all kinds of answers about the exotic taste and ingredients.

              (I love critics.  But I think analysis is just another fiction. Another kind of smoke, another layer of distance.  It’s like reading about reading.  And then reading about reading about reading.  And then reading about reading about reading about reading about . . . about.  We all live inside so many Russian dolls.)

Isn’t that what a great poem does? Isn’t it like a really good smoke or trip?   Something we inhale deeply, letting it take us to another place?

              (No, I don’t smoke.  But if I started, I know I’d never stop.)

RIP: Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton, one-time poet laureate of Md., dies at 73

I just got from an evening with friends to find out Lucille Clifton has passed away.  We’ve lost a treasure.  Lucille Clifton, you’ll be missed.

Here’s a Clifton poem in tribute:

miss rosie

when I watch you
wrapped up like garbage
sitting, surrounded by the smell
of too old potato peels
or
when I watch you
in your old man’s shoes
with the little toe cut out
sitting, waiting for your mind
like next week’s grocery
I say
when I watch you
you wet brown bag of a woman
who used to be the best looking gal in Georgia
used to be called the Georgia Rose
I stand up
through your destruction
I stand up

“My Mother’s Love” by James Allen Hall

James Allen Hall, specifically “My Mother’s Love,” has been on my mind as of late.  Maybe he’s been on my mind because I meant to share “My Mother’s Love” months ago. (Unfortunately, procrastination has one hell of an ugly grip on me.)  I had the distinct pleasure hearing and meeting Allen when he read at the ’09 Decatur Book Festival.  Telling you that his reading was a treat is a severe understatement.

My Mother’s Love

My mother feeds the multitudes of abandoned cats
that live in the field behind our office.  Every sundown
she untangles fur, feline lineages.  She names each one.
And though they are legion, she does not forget.
She administers heartworm medicine to one hundred
feral cats. She cradles them. Imagine her
frenzy, then, the day the bulldozers come,
a sudden god-congress in the air.
The cats hunker in their homes in the ground.
The bulldozers being their awful roll. My mother,
at field’s edge, waves her arms, a decoy.
She stands in front of the men and their stomachs,
big rollers of flesh.  She does not move, she shouts
until their faces dampen with her spit.  She hears the earth
fill with mewling. She digs, she saves thirty-two cats that day,
then takes them home, bathes then, speaks to them calmly
even as they claw up and down her arms.  I’m her
witness.  I’m buried in this story, down in the place
where collapse is inevitable, where love is
only love is it makes you bleed.

~ from Now You’re the Enemy

WHY I WRITE ~ Oliver de la Paz

WHY I WRITE ~ Oliver de la Paz

Initially, I wrote poetry because I hated math and because of spite. I was thirteen. I couldn’t fathom the symbolism of the multiplication sign or the precarious dot, balancing above and below a bar to signify division. It was the year before my class at the local, private Catholic school “graduated” and joined the ranks of the public junior high. My teacher who was a Benedictine nun, lambasted me for my stupidity with the multiplication tables. She’d proceed down the rows with her thumbs hitched to her bra straps, and she’d decree who was holy and who was damned. As far as she was concerned, it was her job to mold us into shining examples for the public school ranks. It seemed like mission work. I was the dunderhead who would never “measure up.” She thought the best motivational tool for me would be ridicule. It didn’t work.

So my father brought home several math workbooks that further distanced me from the world of empirical data. Rather, I crept into the world of books. Reading was my escape, and so I would read for hours to flee from the dreaded workbooks that often waited for me after dinner and the disapproval of the Benedictines in the morning. Nothing drives a child away from math more than the initial ridicule followed by the psychological bludgeoning of workbooks. The hours were long and the pencils were ever sharpened.

Eventually, our class moved beyond the math unit and plunged headlong into the writing unit. The sister gave us several creative writing assignments. One of them was to write a poem, and so I set out to write a poem. But I didn’t want to write the silly poem that the nun had assigned. Out of spite, I wanted to write something that would stir her the way I was stirred by my own books. I wanted to write something that would bring her to tears, thus causing her to feel bad for the pain she had inflicted upon me. I wanted to write something that would instill in her such a self-shame because of her inability to see the genius in her midst. I wanted to be fêted, pampered, and benevolent.

My parents are voracious readers of crime novels and biography, so it’s odd to think back on it now, but I remember pulling The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren from their modest library. Next to the Ann Rule paperbacks was the hardcover book with a slightly tan cover. They had subscribed to Readers’ Digest the minute they set foot in the country, as part of a rite-of-passage. They believed that in order to be a part of this new country, they must subscribe to the narratives of this country, and so we’d receive the weekly periodical in all its abridged narrative glory. And yes, in retrospect, I think it odd that most of the stories that my parents read involved grisly but true murders. Anyway, one of the perks of a subscription to Readers’ Digest was a selection of books from a catalog. My guess is that’s how Robert Penn Warren wound up in our library. In order to help me with the poetry assignment, I thumbed through his poems and was enthralled. Minutes. Hours. I don’t know how much time passed, but I remember leafing through parts of the book as I began my homework. I don’t remember much about the poem that I wrote, or whether I borrowed liberally from Penn Warren. Whether it was a poem that brought tears to my teacher, or whether it caused her to rethink her initial judgment about my stupidity, I truly can’t remember. What I do remember, though, was the act of writing the poem. That the once sharp pencils were made dull by the end. And that I was happy with the work.

Now, I don’t write because of my feelings towards math or out of spite. I don’t harbor the grudges that pushed me beyond the precipice of grade school into junior high. Nor do I sink deep into the funk of my younger days where the classroom was lonely place and where solace was found beyond the mathematics workbooks passed down to me out of an earnest love and worry. Yes, as a child such feelings drove me to the desk, but they are motives no longer. I write because the mystery of the line break still puzzles me. Thrills me. I love the critical thinking involved in a poem—the joining of disparate images or memories into a narrative that coheres.  And I write because the stories of this country surround me everyday but may not be the stories of my family. I want to discover their stories. I write because at the desk, minutes pass so quickly into hours and days. And finally, when a poem is crafted, I feel elated—like I’ve solved a problem. Like time has stopped. Like I’ve solved for X.